Job figures are horrendous but hardly a surprise

This was always an ideological attack on the state and the young are going to have to pay.

The ONS data release on the labour market this morning was horrendous. Unemployment jumped to 8.1 per cent, up 0.4 per cent on the quarter. The total number of unemployed hit 2.57 million, which is the largest quarterly increase since the three months to July 2009. Nearly 900,000 have been unemployed for at least a year and 425,000 for at least two years. The unemployment rate is now in double digits in the north east (11.3 per cent) and in London (10 per cent).

The number of people in employment aged 16 and over fell by 178,000 on the quarter and by 47,000 on the year to reach 29.10 million. This is the largest quarterly fall in the number of people in employment since the three months to July 2009.

The number of people working part-time fell by 175,000 over the quarter to reach 7.78 million. This is the largest quarterly fall in the number of part-time workers since comparable records began in 1992. Inactivity was also up and wage growth remains benign.

Most worrying was the rise in youth unemployment, which is now at 991,000. Next month, it surely will hit the million mark, as the cohort who left schools, colleges and universities fail to find jobs. Plus, of the 17,000 increase in the claimant count, 9,900 was among 18-to-24-year-olds.

The youth unemployment rate was 21.3 per cent over the three months between June and August 2011, an increase of 1.6 per cent on the previous quarter. Worst of all, a quarter of a million youngsters under the age of 25 have been unemployed for at least a year. Long spells of unemployment while young can create permanent scars.

The rise in youth unemployment is hardly a surprise, given the government abolished the Future Jobs Fund and the Educational Maintenance Allowance and reduced the number of university places. This coalition appears to be dead set on creating a lost generation. I first started warning that this was coming in 2009 and the Labour government responded and successfully got youth unemployment down, so the blame for the rise rests entirely at the coalition's door.

Interestingly, the ONS also reports an alternative measure of youth unemployment. This measure, which was introduced in its April 2011 data release, measures the youth unemployment rate "excluding people in full-time education". According to this measure, there were 721,000 unemployed 16-to-24-year-olds between June and August 2011.

This alternative measure of youth unemployment was introduced by ONS back in Spring 2011 in response to pressure from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, who argued that this was the most appropriate measure to focus on. Youth unemployment among 16-to-24-year-olds increased by 74,000; the number of unemployed who were not in full-time education increased by 78,000.

Yes, that's right; it increased by 78,000. Unsurprisingly, we have heard little on this measure today.

In response, the Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, said:

It is clear that we are seeing the effect of the international economic crisis on the UK labour market. That's why, last week, we announced the right-to-buy housing scheme to support growth and today we are offering more support for jobseekers as sector-based work academies come on stream, combining real training, work experience and a guaranteed interview. Our new work programme is now up and running and offers people who have lost their jobs flexible, tailored support to get back into jobs and stay there.

I guess Grayling has to blame somebody but his comments are not credible. Unemployment is rising because of the government's failed austerity programme, plus a front-loaded public-sector job cull. Take responsibility -- tailored support doesn't work when there aren't any jobs. Guaranteed interviews will not work when, according to your data, there are 2.5 million unemployed and only 500,000 vacancies.

The work programme is already an expensive failure because there is insufficient demand in the economy, simple as that. Feeble excuses don't wash.

This inept coalition has no strategy for jobs or growth and its austerity plan is lowering growth fast and destroying jobs, as I have been warning for a while. This is as good as it gets, because unemployment is expected to rise inexorably from here for many more months and, based on current policies, it is hard to see where it stops.

George Osborne and his team believed in expansionary fiscal contractions, which mean that cuts in public spending allow the private sector to blossom. There was no believable empirical evidence to support such a contention and it hasn't worked.

I understand from my sources that cabinet members are close to panic as they have no idea what to do now -- the slowing economy has taken them entirely by surprise.

This was always an ideological attack on the state and the young are the ones who are going to have to pay.

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

Cameron in Nuneaton. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Why fewer of us want a long-term relationship ... with a political party

In 2015, 38 per cent of voters backed a different party to the one they supported in 2010. So what does the rise of swing voters mean for British politics?

For decades political parties have competed furiously for one of the great prizes of British politics: the affections of the swing voter. It wasn’t that long ago that there were relatively few political swingers: until the 1990s, fewer than a quarter of voters would switch parties from one election to the next.

Yet that once relatively rare breed is becoming increasingly common, which means party campaigners are going to have to come up with new tactical thinking. The British Election Study survey panels, conducted episodically over the last fifty years, are unique in that they are able to track the same voters from one election to the next, unlike more conventional opinion polls that only look at a snapshot of voters at a given time. Using these studies, you can identify the percentage of voters who switch their vote from one party to another between each pair of elections since 1966 when such data was first collected.

In 1966 only around 13 per cent of voters had changed their minds since the previous election in 1964. Since then, the proportion of swingers has been steadily increasing, and by 2015, 38 per cent of voters backed a different party to the one they supported in 2010.

The increase in swing voters is pretty consistent. The only exceptions are between February and October 1974, when (understandably) fewer voters changed their minds in eight months than switched in the preceding four years, and between 1997 and 2001, when the electoral dominance of New Labour under Tony Blair held back the tide for a time. These two exceptions aside, the increase has been constant election-on-election.

A lot of vote shifting can go on even between elections where the overall result remains stable. In 2001, for example, more people switched votes than in any election before 1997, with a surprising level of turmoil beneath the surface stability. While these largely cancelled out on that occasion, it set the stage for more dramatic changes in the parties’ votes later on.

So British voters now seem more likely than ever to jump from party to party. But who exactly are these swingers? Are they disillusioned former party loyalists? Or have British voters simply stopped getting into a serious relationship with the parties in the first place? We can get some insight into this using data from the yearly British Social Attitudes Survey, looking at the number of respondents who say that they do not identify with any of the political parties (party identifiers tend to switch much less often) when they are asked ‘Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a supporter of any one political party?’ and then ‘Do you think of yourself as a little closer to one political party than to the others?’ if they say no to the first question. The graph below combines data from 1984 to 2013. Each line represents people who were born in a different year. Higher lines mean that there are more people who do not identify with a political party. So, for instance, voters born in 1955 started with very low levels of non-identification (22 per cent), which have gradually risen to 44 per cent in the latest survey. Most of the lines on the graph go up over time, which shows that almost all generations are falling out of love with the parties.

However, an acquired taste in swinging among the older generations is dwarfed by the promiscuous younger generations – shown by the dashed lines – most of whom never form an attachment to a party at all. Each generation in the data has been less committed to the parties than the previous generation was at the same age, with around 60 per cent of the youngest generation – those born since 1985 – expressing no attachment to any political party.

Since most of this change has been a generational shift, it may be a long road back for the parties. Loyalty to parties is often handed down in families, with children inheriting their parents’ commitment to a party. Now that this process has broken down, and younger generations have lost their attachment to parties, they may in turn pass on this political detachment to their children.

The majority of younger voters have simply never grown up with the idea of getting into a long-term relationship with a political party, so they may never settle down. Many Labour MPs were outraged when it turned out that lots of the new members who joined up to vote for Jeremy Corbyn had voted for the Green Party just a few months before, but this may simply reflect the political approach of a generation who see parties as needing to earn their vote each time rather than commanding lasting, even unconditional loyalty.

If Britain’s newfound taste for swinging isn’t going to disappear any time soon, what does it mean for party competition? In the past most people had settled partisan views, which seldom changed. General elections could be won by attracting the relatively small group of voters who hadn’t made up their minds and could very easily vote for either of the two main parties, so political parties based their strategies around mobilising their core voters and targeting the few waverers. While they worried about traditional loyalists not turning up to the polls, the parties could be assured of their supporters’ votes as long as they got them to the voting booth.

Nowadays, swing voters are no longer a small section of the electorate who are being pulled back and forth by the parties, but a substantial chunk of all voters. This helps to explain why politicians have been so surprised by the sudden rise of new parties competing for groups previously thought to be reliable supporters. The new parties that have entered British politics have also allowed voters to express their views on issues that don’t fall neatly into traditional left– right politics such as immigration (UKIP) or Scottish independence (the SNP). This in turn has posed a dilemma for the traditional parties, who are pulled in multiple directions trying to stop their voters being tempted away.

This may just be the start. If the number of swing voters stays this high, the parties will have to get used to defending themselves on multiple fronts.

This is an extract from More Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box, edited by Philip Cowley and Robert Ford.